HONOLULU (KHON) — Hawaii’s statewide ban on two chemicals commonly used in sunscreen, which went into effect last year, is not enough, according to Maui County City Councilman Kelly King.
King said banning oxybenzone and octinoxate to protect Hawaii’s marine ecosystem solved only part of the problem.
“These chemical names are brand names. So you can take any of those chemicals, you can add something, you can call it something else, and now it’s not on the banned chemical list,” King said. “So we just chose to make all chemicals illegal and do the best we can.”
Effective October 1, only mineral-based sunscreens may be used, sold, or distributed in Maui unless you have a prescription. Chemical sunscreens are damaging Hawaii’s coral reefs, state lawmakers say, thereby threatening native marine life.
Fines range up to $1,000, but warnings are more likely to be issued through a complaint-based system with the Department of Environmental Management.
“It’s not like the sunscreen police go around looking at people’s sunscreen and reading labels,” King said.
She added that retailers and distributors need to pay the most attention to the new rule.
“It is highly unlikely that a tourist could get a warning and then be in the same place for the second warning and ever be fined. But once we can eliminate the distribution, then I think that slows it down. That will make an enormous difference.”
Tourists have yet to be educated about the change, King said. A similar law is scheduled to go into effect on the island of Hawaii on Thursday, December 1, but only for the sale and distribution of chemical sunscreen.
“So that people know they can still use what they want to use, we just don’t want wider distribution and availability in our stores here,” said Hawaii County Councilwoman Rebecca Villegas.
Lawmakers said a statewide ban on chemical sunscreens would be difficult. MP Lisa Marten said there had been backlash from the healthcare industry with skin cancer concerns in the past.
“And that’s an extremely legitimate concern, you know, here in Hawaii we have very high rates of skin cancer and if we didn’t have great alternatives to the chemical sunscreens then I wouldn’t support it myself,” Rep. Marten said.
Rep Marten said a statewide ban — if proposed and passed — would likely follow the Big Island model, which still allows the use of chemical sunscreens but doesn’t sell them.
“You see that in this shop, you buy that. It’s not going to be a big deal, I see no reason to go after the individual consumers,” Rep. Marten said.
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